When you are a vegan eating out in a French restaurant you have to be quite creative with the menu, ask questions, find out if they can make simple substitutions, often order from the side dishes. You can pretty much always find spaghetti with tomato sauce (quite boring!) and if you are lucky maybe some penne all’arrabbiata (now we are talking!) So over the decades, I have had my fair share of amazing penne in spicy tomato sauce from great chefs.
This dish is considered simple home Italian cooking! When done correctly, it has the perfect balance of sweetness, saltiness, and heat. It is so good that it doesn’t even need any parmesan! The tomato sauce must be freshly made so it is not too acidic or liquid. Ideally you want to have chunks of stewed tomatoes. You can also add capers, Calamata olives. Why penne? Because they are hollow and can hold more sauce!
And now for a little Italian lesson, in case you were wondering, ‘arrabbiata’ means angry and mostly refers to the fiery quality of the dish and its spiciness. Don’t worry, this dish will make you feel happy and not angry, I promise!
You can use cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, siracha or even chili paste to create the heat. This being said, you should taste each one as they will produce a slightly different result. Cayenne pepper for example can quickly heat up because it is a powder. Red pepper flakes are also to be used sparingly for the same reason.
TIPS for making perfect penne all’arrabbiata:
- Start preparing your tomato sauce before you start cooking the pasta if you are making it from scratch.
- If you are using a jar of tomato sauce, add a few slices of fresh tomatoes.
- Make sure you don’t overcook the pasta. You want penne ‘al dente’, meaning that you want to be able to bite into the pasta and feel a little resistance.
- Keep 1/4 cup of the liquid before draining it (or let it cool down and use to water your house plants. They will love the starch!)
- Use a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid to the tomato sauce when panfrying the penne. The starch in the liquid will help binding the sauce to the pasta.
Let’s do this!
Best Penne All'Arrabbiata
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 can whole tomatoes or tomato sauce
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes or chili sauce
Additional ingredients (optional)
- 1/2 cup chopped calamata olives
- 2 Tbsp capers
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Prepare the arrabbiata sauce
- In a deep saucepan, add a tablespoon of olive oil, quickly heat the garlic making sure that it doesn't burn.
- Quickly add the canned or fresh tomatoes, salt, red pepper flakes, and sugar.
- Simmer for 10-12 minutes until the liquid has cooked down. Set aside.
- Cook the pasta following the package instructions until it is firm and al dente. Drain and coold down.
Putting it together
- In a shallow frying pan, heat up the sauce, add a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid.
- When the sauce is bubbling, add the penne and stir well.
- Add the chopped Calamata olives and capers if using, and stir.
- Sprinkle some fresh parsley and serve immediately with your favorite salad.